“The Zika virus is clearly a public health concern, and we need to make sure authorities in New Jersey and across the nation are being proactive and taking the necessary steps to ensure that it does not become a public health crisis,” said Pallone. “There is still much we do not know about the virus and its impacts on human health, so I thank the experts and researchers at the Child Health Institute and Rutgers University for their insights ahead of next month’s Energy and Commerce hearing on Zika.”
During the roundtable discussion, Pallone heard repeated calls to upgrade the nation’s health infrastructure so that researchers can more adequately respond to outbreaks of viruses that were once isolated, but are now spreading to more temperate climates due to increased travel and global warming. The experts also noted that, since the Zika virus is more prevalent in densely populated areas, the response to dealing with mosquitoes that carry the virus must be different than simply spraying marshes and fields. In this case, more attention must be given to ensuring that there is no standing water left in cups and small containers.
The World Health Organization recently declared that the Zika virus, which has recently spread to the Americas and has been identified in 20 states, is a public health emergency. The virus is transmitted by mosquitos and while symptoms—which only show in one-in-five people infected by the virus—are usually mild, it may also cause neurological conditions. When Zika infects pregnant women, mother-to-child transmission may lead to miscarriage or certain birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a child is born with an abnormally small head and brain.
Pallone toured the Child Health Institute of New Jersey and held a discussion with public health and disease transmission experts including Dr. Sherine E. Gabriel, Dean of the Rutgers Medical School; Stephen Jones, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Health System; Amy Mansue, President and CEO of Children’s Specialized Hospital; Dr. Chen Liu, the chair of Rutgers Medical School’s Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine; and Dr. Dina Fonseca, an associate professor on vector biology at Rutgers University’s Entomology Department.
Earlier this month, bipartisan leaders of Energy & Commerce Committee requested a briefing on the Zika virus from the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). President Obama requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding in his FY2017 budget to enhance domestic and international efforts to combat Zika, including work on the development of vaccines and diagnostics, and to improve scientific understanding of the disease.